July 4th Celebration Much Calmer on the American River This Year
By: Mary Ann Pekara
Last month Governor Schwarzenegger signed into law a bill that imposed an alcohol ban on the American River through Sacramento between Hazel Avenue and Watt Avenue.
The bill had received a two-thirds vote in the state senate which enabled the law to be enacted as emergency legislation. The hustle was on to get the law signed by the governor before July 4th this year.
Booze was already banned on the shores of the same stretch of river for all warm weather holidays by existing county law. The new state law closes a loophole and makes it illegal to have or consume alcohol on any raft, boat or floatation device as well. So now it is illegal to have or consume alcohol both on the river banks and on the water in the area that the law specifies.
Legislators felt that the law was necessary because for the previous two 4th of July holidays police have dealt with drunk and rowdy crowds from the rafting parties. Many fights broke out and some people even used oars as weapons against each other. Police had to use pepper powder balls in some cases to break up huge fights.
In years past, 4th of July celebrations at the river have pretty much been considered a free-for-all for outrageous behavior. Police could do little about it without the new law, because they could stop people from drinking on the river. They only had jurisdiction under the county law that banned alcohol on land.
On July 4th, 2006 two college students were killed in a car crash after spending the day on the river. Their friend was was allegedly driving drunk when they crashed into a pole. The mothers of both victims spoke at a news conference in support of the bill.
This year the crowd at the river was much thinner. Many more families came out to celebrate the holiday than have in years past. For many families with small children, this was the first year that they tried rafting for the 4th of July.
Although the alcohol ban was strictly enforced at the river, with police checking coolers and rafts at put-in points, some rafters admitted they had a few beers before they came. This may bring a new problem into play. While people aren't allowed to drink at the river, will they now be drinking beforehand and driving drunk to the 4th of July celebration?
Although the alcohol ban was advertised on television and radio, some people either claimed not to know about it or simply tried to ignore it. Police confiscated garbage bags full of beer and other alcohol at the river's edge.
Most people simply surrendered the alcohol they brought and continued with the celebration after receiving a warning from police. However, one woman who tried to be slick earned herself a citation that may cost her as much as $200. Police say she had a large glass bottle of rum in her bag and tried to walk right past authorities with it. When questioned, she then lied about having it.
Police say most people who brought alcohol did not receive citations and enjoyed a calmer and more pleasant 4th of July on the river.